Magazine article Public Finance

Key Ideas for How to Manage Change

Magazine article Public Finance

Key Ideas for How to Manage Change

Article excerpt

Managing change in the public sector cannot be a private, internal or family affair. Any public sector service or team is answerable not only to ministers, MPs or councillors but also to individual customers, communities, taxpayers, media commentators, partners and stakeholders. All of these potentially have not just rights and needs but views, questions, concerns and positive contributions to make.

Implementing change in any organisation involves stress and a sense of loss for staff. All change managers need to help colleagues cope with job losses and learn new skills and behaviours.

But in the public sector particularly, they also need to maintain a positive balance between the 'golden triangle' of their personal concern for colleagues and professional values; the wishes and decisions of elected politicians; and an ever- shifting web of complex external factors.

Otherwise, they can find themselves in the middle of the type of political and media storm that rarely leads to 'positive' change.

This happened at the old Child Support Agency and the London Borough of Lambeth, for example - and the single most important factor in turning them around was to create a new balance.

So what should a public sector manager do to bring about real change?

1 KEEP AHEAD OF THE 'CHANGE CURVE'

You have to recognise and manage your own reactions to change in order to manage others. At different stages you might feel angry, despairing, over- excited, energised and confident - but don't assume others feel the same or that their emotions are responding at the same pace as you. Remember that others can be hugely influenced by the mood and approach they 'catch' from you as team leader. So deal with your own fears and negative feelings privately; and recognise that others might be at different points in their emotional journey. If s your job to see what is coming over the horizon in time to help others to adjust.

2 ENSURE YOUR APPROACH SUITS THE CORE CULTURE OF YOUR TEAM AND ORGANISATION

There is no one recipe for success, and charisma (or ego) alone will not get you far. Inventing a personality for your organisation can help (as long as you do it privately and with affection and respect). So, for me, the old [NI] Contributions Agency was a middle-aged, successful man, but overweight, old-fashioned, hard of hearing, and rather set in his ways.

3 PUT CUSTOMERS/ SERVICE USERS AT THE HEART OF CHANGE

Too often, ordinary public sector customers are represented by 'interest' and 'party' groups with their own agendas, ideologies and cultures. Try to really understand how ordinary people experience the service and what they would want if they could choose whether or not to use it. Listen in to real-time phone calls, join staff on visits as a 'trainee'; set up forums of individual customers that you can use to test everything from new forms to staff training in customer service. Public service should mean serving the public; and many public servants react most positively to changes (and leaders) that clearly focus on that.

4 OPEN UP YOUR ORGANISATION TO NEW EXTERNAL INFLUENCES

Change needs creativity grounded in practicality. Working examples of doing things differently can provide helpful stimulants and reality checks. They can also challenge assumptions about 'the way things have to be done' in a positive way that does not rubbish what has been achieved. Get people out of 'their' office.

5 DON'T RELY ON FORMAL HIERARCHIES TO CREATE CHANGE

Senior managers and project leaders will include those who have gained most - and fitted in best - with the old ways of doing things. …

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